One reality of Digital Leaders, The eMentor project. #edtech #edchat

Back in 2007, when I was managed by a very disruptive innovator, I ran a large scale digital leader program.  The project had the full support of a new principal and was written into my performance related pay targets (so with a new mortgage I was quite engaged!)  We also had one very motivated and engaged student to start us off.

The end target was nothing if not ambitious, every full time class to have a digital leader!

So far so good, but then came the hard sell of ‘volunteer’ work to the students. We also had to sell the concept of students advising staff, to the staff themselves.  In FE this was one of the first problems.  Working from entry level up to foundation degree, there seemed little commonality with which to first recruit (UCAS references worked well with A Levels), and then to train (beyond the basic interactive board training).

In the first year I managed to recruit 47 digital leaders from the full range of courses and managed to run several meetings and training sessions.  Due to the range of skills and the needs of classes the digital leaders helped with the following

  • Basic IT troubleshooting (PCs, printers etc)
  • Introductory (and some advanced) interactive white board use
  • Mentoring new students into existing classes
  • The use of basic Office applications
  • Attending training to learn to use Moodle
  • And finally, one student had his own college Moodle install that ran alongside the official course site

In the second year the college had successfully bid for a mobile phone project so we had 20 pairs of quite clunky windows mobile phones for 20 teacher/digital leader pairs.  In addition our very motivated student joined the team as part of his course work placement. This raised the profile of the whole digital leader project and, together with vouchers to pay for attendance at meetings, we managed to recruit over 140 students.

Although most of the students continued with the activities described above there were media sharing and forum feedback expected from the students with the phones.  Despite loading apps that made this very easy there were issues with the video quality and limited use of this feature, even in the most practical subjects.  We did however manage to run student led interactive whiteboard sessions on an inset day.

At the end of the second year our original student left, but we did gain a new leader who was well supported by the director of his curriculum area.  He was very motivated and confident, to the point that he went into classes outside his area and presented to other students in an attempt to set up student run forum classes on Moodle.

This worked well in the first year, but it was becoming clearer that many students used the digital leader project as a distraction from their BTEC course work.  Teachers of some of the best digital leaders started to mention the fact that they were getting behind.  The student we had been relying on was too busy with course work and his part time job in the second year to work on projects or inspire new students to join the project.

So, I quietly let the project phase out.  No natural successor to the 2nd student leader, no longer a champion for the project in the Senior Leadership Team, and no clamour from teaching staff meant that there really seemed to be little return on a considerable investment of time and effort.  However, that doesn’t mean that I believe the whole concept is without merit, just that I couldn’t run it alone.

So what is the message?  Here are the key takeaways

  • Find a small core of highly motivated students with a clear view of what they would like to do
  • Decide if you want to take the difficult route of getting students involved in pedagogical change, not just simplistic proxies of that
  • Ensure that you have support at all levels in the college
  • Use quality mechanisms to put targets in place
  • Work to ensure that everyone involved has clear motivation (this might involve a bit of ‘hard selling’ from you)
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